My search marketing agency runs a quarterly newsletter and I’m finding that writing it is almost as time consuming as maintaining a blog.

It’s also just as challenging, and in a similar way to an online corporate journal. You have to give the reader value, you have to behave sociably and not try to sell forcefully, you have to achieve your marketing goal and, on top of all that, you have to be interesting.

That’s no small feat.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the ingredients of a successful newsletter.

Why do newsletters fail?

Before I come to my top tips for a decent newsletter, I think it’s fairly important to consider what failure looks like because there are several different stages at which your newsletter might let you down.

The first is whether or not people open your newsletter, the second whether or not they bother reading it or simply unsubscribe, and the third is whether or not they perform the action you want, which could be reading a blog post, buying an item or sharing it with their friends.

When you’re addressing a failing email newsletter, you need to analyse which of these is the main problem. After all, perhaps your content is wonderful but your subject lines are epically dreadful.

Unless you consider where your email is letting you down, you won’t know what to fix.

Give readers news

Your recipient has signed up to receive a newsletter, not to receive mountains of promotional copy. Don’t abuse their trust in your brand by spamming them silly, you’ll never win them back.

A newsletter can, of course, contain marketing, but it also needs to give the recipient value. Offer industry news and interviews, views and analysis, give them discounts, link to blog posts, and include interesting tables and charts that are relevant to your sector.

It’s worth signing up to your competitors’ newsletters too, so that you can see the kinds of subjects they are covering and keep ahead.

Test your message

Don’t just spray and pray, run tests of your email before you send it. By sending test groups different versions of your newsletter, you can dramatically increase open and click-through rates by refining your copy.

At the very least, make sure you run tests of your subject lines. If you have an ineffective subject line, you could halve the success of your newsletter.

Be realistic

At SEOptimise, we send out a quarterly newsletter, so the pressure on the team is fairly minimal. 

However, if you have grand plans to send out a newsletter every week or more then you need an appropriately-sized team to write it, test it, analyse it and make it a success.

Aim too high without the right staffing levels in place and your newsletter will fail, your brand will be harmed by poor quality communications, and your existing team will feel overworked and harassed.

It’s also important to be realistic about how many emails your recipients will be happy to get. 

Perhaps city investors will be happy to receive a daily newsletter but foodies signed up to a supermarket newsletter will only want an email every week at the most. Send too many and you’ll become a spammer, no matter how marvellous the content.

Target your readers

What do you know about your newsletter recipients? If you just have their email addresses then there isn’t much you can do, but if you know things about them such as their age, sex, family status and so on then you can really target your content.

Admittedly, writing different content for different groups of your audience is more time consuming, but it’s also more effective. Experiment with what works and you’ll soon see if it makes financial sense or not.

It is also a good idea to segment your email pot depending on how long they have been signed up. So, ideally new subscribers receive an email acknowledging that they are new and highlighting the benefits and value of continuing to receive the newsletter.

Make it easy to opt out

The difference between your newsletter and spam is that you are emailing by consent. The only way to maintain that consent is by making it easy for them to opt out – and trusting to decent content to make sure that they don’t.

Always include an easy-to-find ‘unsubscribe’ button and don’t make them jump through hoops to get themselves off your list.

Stay clean

The success of your email marketing is not down to copy alone; you have to get past the various spam filters.

Clean your distribution list regularly, it really isn’t just about sending out as many emails as possible. Anyway, you don’t benefit from sending emails to people who don’t open them, so there’s no point.